A photo of a vee hive smoker on black background

I was testing out my smoker tonight to make sure it was ready for when my bees arrive, and I thought I should explain one of the most basic concepts of keeping bees.

Just about everyone has seen pictures of beekeepers using smokers to smoke the hive while doing inspections, but what is the purpose of using smoke on bees? There are two main reasons beekeepers use smoke on their bees:

Bees assume that the smoke means there is a fire nearby. When the bees sense a fire, they start consuming honey because they think they’ll have to leave their home and find a new place to live. However, similar to humans that have consumed a large turkey dinner, bees become calm and lethargic after gorging on honey.

Smoke masks bee pheromones. Honeybees rely heavily on pheromones to communicate throughout the hive. When bees think their hive is under attack, they release an alarm pheromone to alert other bees which agitates the entire hive. Smoke masks these pheromones and confuses the bees. This allows the beekeeper to work in the hive and keeps the bees calm.

Now you know. (And knowing is half the battle).

I received an email last week from my local association secretary. He has asked to pass along a message for anyone experiencing dead bees in their apiary.

If you know of any beekeepers that are experiencing honeybee mortality with bees dying in front of the hive entrance or on the ground in front of colonies, it may be due to instances of pesticide use in your area. It is quite important that all instances of this type of hive loss are documented. There have been some reports of these losses early this season. The Ministry of Environment and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency are looking into these reports. The federal PMRA is interested in having all incidents documented.

If you are experiencing such losses in your colonies, please keep a detailed log of the losses and contact your local apiary inspector. If you are in Ontario, here is a list of local bee inspectors. If you’re outside Ontario, please contact your beekeeping association for contact information related to hive inspections.

A photo of Earth from spaceToday is Earth Day. Why not take part in Earth Day this year by helping the bees in your area? Here are three quick ways that you can support your local bee population:

  1. Plant a big flower garden with wild flowers. If you aren’t quite ready to start your own urban backyard beehive, then do your part by providing the bees with a nice big area where they can forage all season long. Big green lawns don’t offer much for bees, so don’t be afraid to dig up some of your lawn and plant more flowers.
  2. Buy organic. There are many foods that you can buy from organic farms which help bees by providing a safe, pesticide-free area to gather pollen and nectar. A lot of people are afraid to buy organic foods because of the price, so if budget is a concern for you, then start small by choosing foods that bees pollinate such as apples, pears and berries.
  3. Support your local beekeepers. Many local beekeepers sell their honey, wax and other products at local farmers’ markets. You can support these local beekeepers by purchasing their products. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to try new things. Liquid honey isn’t the only thing bees provide. 🙂

Happy Earth Day!

This goes to show that you can keep bees just about anywhere. Michael Leung is a product designer and rooftop beekeeper in Hong Kong. This is a short glimpse into his life. Tip: Watch for the subliminal honey comb at the end of the beginning sequence.

What are the real costs involved in becoming a beekeeper? Up until recently, I didn’t know the answer to this, but I’m beginning to find out… the hard way. Read the rest of this entry »